It seems surprising that it took until 2016 for the United States to select its official national mammal. The bison is an excellent choice not only for symbolic reasons, but also for historical ones. It took a piece of legislation, and a lot of public interest, to make the bison the official mammal of the United States.
It has been a long time since the United States designated an animal as an official symbol. The bald eagle was designated the “National Emblem of the U.S.” on June 20, 1782, at the Second Continental Congress. For whatever reason, the United States did not feel the need to designate an official national mammal until 2016.
Several other countries have national mammals. Canada’s national animal is the North American beaver. Canada also has a national horse – the Canadian horse. Finland has the Brown Bear as its national animal. Mexico has the Xoloitzcuintli (a Mexican hairless dog) as its national dog. So, there is precedent for the United States to select a national mammal.
The bison is an excellent choice for many reasons. It is the state mammal for Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The bison is an animal that is native to the United States. An estimated 20 to 30 million bison once dominated the North American landscape from the Appalachians to the Rockies, and from the Gulf Coast to Alaska.
The bison was a critical resource for Native Americans. Various tribes hunted the bison for food. Every part of the bison was used: for utensils, clothing, and in religious rituals. Bison fat was used to make soap, and bison stomach lining was used as a cooking vessel.
The introduction of horses and guns accelerated the pace of bison hunting among Native Americans. During the westward expansion white settlers began pushing the Native Americans off of their lands. The United States started exterminating the bison in an effort to force the Native Americans to move.
In 1894, the first legislation to protect the bison was passed. The American Bison Society later started breeding bison for wild reserves. There has been a lot of conservation effort put into saving the bison from extinction. Today, an estimated 20,000 bison live on public lands in North America.
The National Bison Legacy Act was signed by President Obama on May 9, 2016. In short, the legislation calls for the bison to be established as the national mammal of the United States of America. National Bison Day (which predates the National Bison Legacy Act legislation) is celebrated on the first Saturday of November every year.
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